Title: Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Author: Tomie dePaola
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Picture books
If you are looking for a story for children about Saint Patrick to help explain the significance of St. Patrick’s Day to 6-to-8-year-olds, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland is a great one. This children’s book is a brief, charming biography of St. Patrick, with the added bonus of several interesting legends about Patrick appended after the strictly biographical part.
Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Summary
As dePaola tells it, Patrick grew up in Britain near the Irish Sea during the late 4th- and early 5th-century CE, in the twilight of the Western Roman Empire. One night warriors from Ireland landed on the shores near his home, raided local farms, and took many people into captivity, including the teenage Patrick. Patrick was sold into slavery, and was forced to tend the flock of an Irish landowner. After six years Patrick managed to escape, finding passage to France and eventually back home to Britain and his family.
However, the picture book recounts how Patrick later had a dream in which he sensed a divine calling to return to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Patrick became a bishop and returned to Ireland to pursue this missionary work. Although he faced many perils in his work in Ireland, dePaola tells us that Patrick’s missionary work inspired the establishment of many churches, monasteries, and schools in Ireland, and that his work was an impetus to the continued spread of the good news of God’s love throughout the world. On dePaola’s telling, Patrick died in 461 CE on March 17th, the day we now celebrate as St. Patrick’s Day.
Subjective Appeal: Interesting Story and Theme
Several things make this story for children about Saint Patrick appealing for 6-to-8-year-olds. First, the theme of St. Patrick’s life is one that many children in this age group will be interested in simply because the story behind St. Patrick’s Day is not widely known, apart from the bare fact that it is about some guy named St. Patrick. Kids will welcome this brief biography of Patrick as an explanation of why everyone is wearing green and decorating with shamrocks on March 17th (though it won’t explain the excessive drinking of green beer…).
Second, the picture book tells of episodes from Patrick’s life that are pithy and interesting. For example, it tells of how Patrick’s chariot driver once heard that a wicked king planned to kill Patrick. Wanting to protect Patrick, the driver feigned tiredness and asked Patrick to drive the chariot in his place. Because of this switch the wicked king confused the chariot driver for Patrick and had the driver killed instead of Patrick.
Also, the legends about Patrick that dePaola appends to the biography are charming. For example, one legend tells of how Patrick was trying to explain the Trinity—the Christian notion of one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to some people one day and noticed a shamrock growing at his feet. As the legend goes, he picked the shamrock and used it as an illustration of the Trinity: one stem, with three leaves. Hence, the significance of the shamrock.
Developmental Value: Exemplary Character, Religious Significance
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland is also developmentally valuable for children in the 6-to-8-years age group for several reasons. First, Patrick is an exemplar of excellent character. As suggested by the fact that he endured six years of captivity in Ireland and then escaped back to his home in Britain, Patrick was extremely courageous. DePaola comments on Patrick’s subsequent ministry in Ireland as follows: “Patrick faced many other dangers, too. In fact, he came close to losing his life twelve times. But that didn’t stop him.” Here, then, is a welcome model of courage. More uniquely, though less explicitly, the picture book shows Patrick also to be a model of forgiveness. Despite his early and painful enslavement in Ireland, Patrick embraced a calling to serve the people of Ireland. Here is a man who forgave and loved his captors, rather than taking a ready opportunity to become bitter and hateful toward them.
The story for children about Saint Patrick also suggests formative parallels between Patrick and certain biblical figures. For example, his early captivity and later forgiveness of his captors reminded me immediately of Joseph—the favorite son of Jacob, sold into slavery by his envious brothers. Moreover, Patrick’s labor in exile as a shepherd reminded me of both Moses—the murderous fugitive from Egypt who tended sheep in Midian for 40 years—and of David—the young boy forced to tend his father’s flock while his older brothers were off glamorously battling the Philistines. And, of course, Patrick’s forgiving love of his enemies reminded me most poignantly of Jesus. Furthermore, Patrick’s walk with God—particularly his vivid prayer life and his responsiveness to a divine calling—feature prominently and tastefully in the picture book. Thus, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland is also quite valuable as an instrument of religious education.
In sum, I give dePaola’s picture book Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland my highest recommendation. I encourage you to find it in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post, or in the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore. I also recommend other great picture books by Tomie dePaola, such as Petook: An Easter Story, and Strega Nona.
For another review of Tomie dePaola’s picture book Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, click here. For further suggestions for picture books for St. Patrick’s Day, click here.
Erin go bragh! (“Ireland forever!”).
Do you have favorite children’s books about St. Patrick or St. Patrick’s Day? I would love to hear about them in the comments.